I was once told that the cure for cancer kills the rich and the lack of it kills the poor. Either way, cancer is consistently shattering the lives of many individuals and those they leave behind. Through the month of October, I will be featuring conversations, letters and diaries from friends who have lost loved ones to the disease. The financial, emotional and psychological ramifications following this sort of loss is something we do not explore enough of.
Doosurr has been a dear friend for many years, funny, loving and nurturing as far back as I have known her, yet she has always carried around an unemotional persona; something of an extra face. I remember when she broke the news to me about her mums passing, it was so casual, I think the discomfort even forced me to respond in an even more casual way than I anticipated. For the first time, through this interview, we talk about cancer, grief, loss and the first death before the real one.
What is your fondest memory of you and your mother?
Ooh, this is a tough one, I think when someone passes away every memory becomes a “fondest” one, because you just wish you could get all the time back. (even the time your mother beat you for watching House Party)
What where your thoughts on the moment she was diagnosed with cancer and what was the journey like from then on?
Well my mother kept it away from us for about a month, she waited till I graduated from high school, and she called my siblings and I into the room and in her usual frank way of speaking just said “well, I have cancer that’s advanced to the last stages, and I don’t want you all to panic, but this is something we have to just deal with”. I instantly feared for the worse of course, but quickly snapped into survival mode because I was about to start Uni, as well as be her part-time carer because she had the mastectomy literally a few weeks after telling us.
When people dealing with cancer go into remission and it resurfaces again, there is a sort of roller coaster ride that comes with it. How was it for you every time you would hear she was in remission, then the next minute it has spread somewhere else?
You summed it up with the words roller coaster; that’s exactly what it’s like, the extremes of emotions. The first remission you get really is the one that fools you – because the person appears to almost fully recover, and then the blow comes, years later when your mind has forgotten about everything. I think my mom was in remission at least 3 times, during the course of her 7 year illness. Each time the cancer came back in a different place, it was like having that WWF wrestler Yokozuna do a body slam on you; it would just weaken your entire body and leave you feeling lifeless.
Often times, we forget about those caring for loved ones. What was the experience like looking after your mum?
To say it is not easy is a great understatement. I have so much respect for the medical profession and professional carers, because it is emotionally, physically and spiritually draining. Looking after my particular type of mother was difficult especially because she was such a strong woman that wanted to do most things by herself, but of course as she got worse, she had to be dependent on people around her. We had a role reversal; I became the mother and she became the child; everyday was full of different emotions, so the experience varied from day to day. Let me just say though that the experience was a blessing as I got to know my mother deeper than I probably could have if the circumstances had been different. It was challenging, it was fulfilling, it was fun, it was tough, it was painful, it was exciting, it was agonizing and excruciating – I think it was every adjective you can find in the dictionary.
My sister-in-law lost her mother to pancreatic cancer. I remember interviewing her and she said to me that chemotherapy was a sickness on its own. Tell us about your own experiences watching her in treatment?
O gosh! Chemo, radiotherapy, bucket load of pills, operations, check-ups, diets, prayers, a million injections, the whole lot just takes its toll on the sick person. My mother’s body became unrecognizable, what with the discolouring, and hair loss, and frailness of the person’s bones and skin – they literally end up looking like someone else. It was horrible watching what was supposed to bring aid to the illness, bring just as much pain. Many times I actually wanted to stop my mom from going through a treatment because of how much pain I know she would be in afterward.
I remember once when we were all hanging out, you talked about bathing your mum and cleaning up the sheets because on a very bad day, she would be unable to get to the toilet herself. What is it like to watch your parent become completely helpless?
Yup, that happened and it would greatly embarrass my mother, as I said earlier, she was a strong career woman, a lawyer for over 30 years. So being in a such helpless situation was foreign to both of us, those sort of moments where I knew she was feeling helpless, I would try very hard to revert to being a baby again, just so she would not feel like she had lost her identity as my mother ( I don’t know if that makes much sense). Also like I said earlier, there was a role reversal where I was the mother and she was the child a lot of the time, but this was something that I had to switch in and out of as quickly or as slowly as the situation called for. I don’t think there is much worse in the world than watching your strong parent that’s looked after you your whole life now become dependent on you; it’s a deeply sad situation to face.
You wrote a journal about her final days, reading it back, what do you realise now that you didn’t know then?
Umm, I will have to make a confession here and it may come across as strange to readers, but I just want to be honest and maybe others who read this may understand and help me out. So I read back the journal entries, and I realized that the last day I saw my mother (she was in Reading and I had to travel back to Bright on that day), I knew it was the last day I would see her, (now here is the confession) I wanted to leave her, leave Reading QUICKLY!!! I was eager to go, I mean we woke up and spent amazing quality time together, but I was anxious to go back to Brighton and leave my mom and sister. My mom and I felt strongly it was going to be our last visit with each other, and all I could think of was getting away from her; I didn’t want to see her how she was anymore.
For as long as I have known you, you are someone who has been very good at blocking things out and some may see you as stoic and unemotional. What did this experience do to both your spirit and physical being?
(laughs) Yes, Wana knows me quite well. I do tend to block things that I know will affect me negatively out – and I attempted to do that with this situation, however I think the emotional trauma of losing my mother took a toll on me physically; my weight’s been fluctuating, I’ve been in and out of the dentist’s chair more times than I know (I’ve lost teeth), anxiety, palpitations, etc. Spiritually, everyday is a struggle; it’s a broken spirit trying to mend. My mother was my biggest influence spiritually, and ordinarily it would be her job to help guide my spiritual defects, but you know, the spirit is now trying to understand its independence and heal itself.
Your mum spent the last couple of years in treatment in England but prior to that, at some point she was miss-diagnosed with a slip disc in Nigeria when she had a lump in her spine?
She had been in remission for about a year, she had an accident, fell down the stairs, she was fine for a few months. My mom decided to go back to Nigeria as she has been out of the country for so long, it was in Nigeria that the back started worrying her so she went and had several X-rays at a prominent hospital in Abuja, and they diagnosed a slip disc and proceeded to administer physiotherapy on her. When she couldn’t walk anymore, she came over to the UK, with one X-ray scan; the doctors were able to count 7 tumours that were resting on her spine. They actually said the physio helped to grow the cancers.
Do you think you have grieved yet or started the process or are you sometimes hoping it would disappear?
This is a most interesting question. Soon as my sister and I got the phone call telling us mom had passed away, I think I have been emotionally disarrayed since then. I don’t even think I have real control over my emotions anymore, so I don’t know if I am grieving or I’m yet to start. I haven’t necessarily cried about the loss, because the last year of her being alive was worse than death – in fact at the point she died, death was the welcomed solution. So I haven’t cried yet, but I know I am a ball of crazy emotions, anyone who has worked with me would tell you, I used work to cover up the feelings for a long time, but as the years pass (it’s been 3 years since the demise) I actually find myself feeling more helpless towards the matter. I get all sorts of advice telling me which way to grieve – I am just hoping one day I will just wake up and cry from about 7am till 7pm then the whole thing will be over!
What do you think she would say to you answering these questions if she was still here?
Oh she would be very glad if it was going towards helping anyone. I mean she was a very private person, and we kept her illness under wraps a lot in the beginning, but once people could tell she was sick, she would openly talk about this cancer and she would teach people. My mom was a teacher as well, so anything that has to do with literature and self expression – count her in!
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